May 5th 2021, 1:45pm-3:15pm ET
Surveillance in the city
Chair: Paula Gardner (McMaster University)
Paula Gardner (McMaster) will guide a panel on the topic of surveillance capitalism in the smart city context, inviting discussion of policy responses to such problems. The rise of surveillance capitalism has only recently begun to be examined by policymakers, including representatives of governments around the world as part of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy, and Democracy. The rise of surveillance capitalism is a problem that is compounded by the rise of smart city platforms.
Beth Coleman (University of Toronto (Mississauga))
Paper Title: Activating Context: Disruptive Data Pedagogies and Smart Infrastructure
In thinking about urban surveillance, what if “risk” is the better civic framework over the conventional wisdom of “privacy”? In this light, I ask how are ubiquitous automation technologies (“smart”) such as Bluetooth and visual-capture IoT deployed in public space? I look at several case studies of urban smart installations, such as the Toronto King Street pilot, the New York City LinkNYC Wi-Fi kiosks, to discuss issues of design ontology, data sovereignty, and the smart topos of “efficiency.” In many ways, these urban installations are the ideal picture of smart technology application. Yet, I am interested in the slippage between the language (and methods) of “efficiency” and the complexities of deploying what are, in effect, surveillance technologies in public space. If one looks closely at the structures of data acquisition, holding, and analysis, one finds a complicated scenario of “efficiency” obfuscating the (design) values of transparency, consent, and privacy. Part of the attraction of such case studies is that the city agents are largely working toward a public good; it is the complexity and invisibility of machine-to-machine (m2m) automation that presents new challenges for human-computer interaction. Increasingly, the contours of a data-driven society are shaped by the transformation of nearly all interactions (monetary, communication, locational, etc.) into a modality of quantifiable data. The significance of this is profound and, often, largely, invisible. In making visible the infrastructure and ontology of such public works project, I ask a broader question regarding smart technology in context and the civic status of data ethics and data sovereignty, with implications for data Justice.
Natasha Tusikov (York University)
Paper Title: Signage, Consent, & Data Standard Setting in the Smart City
The Toronto smart city project, Quayside, is no ordinary smart-city project. It is Google’s flagship (and, to date, only) venture into the billion-dollar smart-city industry. This presentation explores the controversial silence of Sidewalk Labs, the Google spin-off company, on its data collection plans and implications for privacy in the Quayside public consultations. Drawing on critical data studies and an analysis of Sidewalk Labs’ data governance proposals, this presentation argues that Sidewalk Labs is strategically shaping rules on data and privacy to privilege its business model and economic interests. Sidewalk Labs, arguing that obtaining people’s consent for data collection in public spaces is difficult, proposes to use a prototype system of signage to indicate how data will be collected, by whom, and for what purpose. Signage, however, does not constitute consent.
Blayne Haggart (Brock University)
Paper Title: Surveillance, marketing and misdirection: The selling of Toronto’s smart city
In 2016, Daniel L. Doctoroff, financier, former deputy mayor of New York City and head of the then-year-old Google company Sidewalk Labs, asked the question, “What would a city look like if you started from scratch in the internet era – if you built a city ‘from the internet up?’” This catchy turn of phrase became Sidewalk Labs’ calling card, eventually landing it a deal to co-partner with the Waterfront Toronto, an arm’s-length government agency, to develop a smart city project in the Quayside neighbourhood of Toronto’s waterfront. However, between the October 2017 awarding of this contract and Sidewalk Labs’ presentation of its plans in June 2019, “from the internet up” disappeared completely from the company’s lexicon.
This vanishing trick is the key to understanding the Quayside project, while also telling us something about the general concept of “smart cities.” An examination of the Quayside project reinforces the extent to which “smart city” is a marketing device. It also highlights the extent to which such projects are designed to provide the illusion of accountability while maintaining top-down control over the project. Most interestingly, Sidewalk Labs’ attempt to downplay the importance of data and surveillance, which seems particularly absurd coming from a company whose only competitive advantage is its links to Google, highlights the difficulty that all smart-city companies face in the post-Cambridge Analytica era. Ubiquitous commercial surveillance may now be a political landmine, but it’s also necessary to make a Google-style smart city work.
Michael Darroch (York University)
Paper Title: Open Cities in a Border Region: Windsor-Detroit
While divided by the international border, Windsor and Detroit also constitute a curiously integrated urban environment. This paper contrasts each city’s approach to both open data portals and data-driven initiatives to consider ways in which the cities are connected and disconnected on a range of informational scales. Through their shared histories of colonial expansion, international networks of manufacturing and trade, and coordinated management of waterways and air pollution, the cities have long been linked by cross-border governance and mobilities of people, labour, goods, and information (Klug 1998; Oiamo, Lafreniere & Parr, 2016). As recently as October 2018, Detroit-based entrepreneur Dan Gilbert announced that one hundred employees of his Quicken Loans online mortgage company would take up residence across the Detroit River in a previously empty building in downtown Windsor. The announcement followed the recently failed bid, led by Gilbert, to land the new Amazon Headquarters as a cross-border Detroit-Windsor venture. At a time of deepening uncertainty about American border policies and the future of North American trade agreements, Gilbert was compelled to initiate a cross-border IT workforce by tapping into the talent pool of southwestern Ontario’s rich university and technology sectors, without the necessity for workers to cross the border physically. At the same time, both city-governed and independent open data portals in each city (such as Windsor’s Open Data Portal and Data Driven Detroit) are strangely disconnected, despite broad recognition of the deeply interdependent factors of cross-border labour, consumption patterns, agriculture and food industries, transportation networks, and international property speculation. Data-driven and smart-city initiatives that increasingly recognize the need for coordinated cross-border information sharing are rather sponsored by groups such as the Ontario-sponsored Local Employment Planning Council Workforce WindsorEssex, the University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute, or by each city’s commissioning of for-profit companies such as Kitchener-based Miovision to develop smart traffic intersections and traffic flow leading to Windsor-Detroit’s central border crossings.
Kuan-Yun Wang (Communication and Cultural Studies, York University)
Paper Title: Surveillance Capitalism and the Political Economy of Technology in the Global “War on Terror” Ideological Battlefield: The case of Palestine during Covid 19 Pandemic
Surveillance has always been a part of the Israeli government’s settler-colonial project (Abu-Laban et al., 2011; Lyon, 2011; Lentin, 2017). In March 2020, the Israeli government announced new emergency regulations in response to the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. For Palestinians living in the occupied territory to hold a valid or renew their permit to enter Israel for work, family visit, school or medical checkups, they are asked to download the ‘Al Munasiq’ in Arabic, or ‘The Coordinator’ app. This app then “allows the army to track the user’s phone location as well as access any notifications they receive, files they download or save, and the device's camera” (Ali, 2020, p.11).
Building upon the existing literature, I want to further address the question of visuality and Necropolitics in the context of settler colonialism (Mirzoeff, 2011, Zureik 2011, Mbembe, 2019). I also investigate how surveillance technologies and surveillance capitalism contribute to the “death world”, as Mbembe puts it, as a result of the global war on terror.
I first outline the history of surveillance methods used on Palestinians, and then bring the theory of visuality for counterinsurgency in the military-industrial complex into the discussion (Mirzoeff, 2011; Zureik, 2011). Mbembe’s works on Necropolitics is timely when examining the case of Palestine especially during the covid-19 pandemic. The division and control over space/territory and the use of technology are two crucial characteristics. Then, by situating the context in the global picture, I discuss how popular media culture is itself forms of surveillance to normalize certain discourses and ideologies, and part of the surveillance capitalism through the Netflix television series Fauda (Lyon, 2007). The examples I investigate are two different types of media products; one is from Fauda to critically study the relationship between technology and race, and connect them it to the present reality. The second part includes reviewing how the discourse of surveillance and use of technologies show up in media articles, official statements, and reports from civil society organizations during the pandemic in Israeli English news outlets.